Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On Meeting the Star of The Namesake -Kal Penn (Kalpen Suresh Modi)

One of my all time movie watching pleasures was The Namesake. For me the film ranks up there with some of the movies like Scent of a Woman and Shawshank Redemption--films which bring deeply imagined characters and their stories to life, so that we so identify with their struggles that we  begin to see the world differently through their eyes.  Based on a short story by accomplished Indian writer Jhumpa Lahiri, it  featured Kal Penn  had starred in a bizarely original comedy Harold and Kumar.  According to one source it was John Cho who played Harold who first suggested to Penn that he should read the story which later led to both of them discussing getting the rights to the movie. Mira Nair had already brought those rights and moreover had thought of casting a Bollywood leading man as the protoganist Gogol Ganguili. It was Nair's son Zohran who persuaded his mother to cast Penn in the central role since he loved Penn's work in Harold and Kumar.  Incidentally Kal Penn is his stage name, an Americanized version of his real name, Kalpen Suresh Modi  For a country of immigrants,  there have been few great  movies made about the immigrant experience, The Immigrant with Charlie Chaplin comes to mind emphasizing that the more common way of addressing immigrant experience is to turn it into a comedy like Green Card. The Namesake is a game changer in the way that it focuses with relentless honesty on the pain of separation from one's culture and the challenges facing both the generation that leaves the homeland and for the children who try to live in the new culture.

This is just a prologue to a small encounter with the great actor at this year's Kennedy Center honors, where we briefly got a chance to chat about the movie and how much I enjoyed it and how much my children liked his other comedic roles. We also chatted about his return to the Obama administration as an Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement, (according to the Note he will be "conducting outreach to the American public and various organizations, he will be the point person for those in the Arts, Youth, and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities." )What I liked about Penn was his modesty and his interest in politics he stumped in his personal capacity for the President and Senator Boxer in the last election cycle and has personal capacity to promote the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the passage of the DREAM Act. He also met with artists, arts businesses and youth entrepreneurs in the Detroit area where the "Harold & Kumar" movie was shot. He also visited U.S. troops in Hawaii, South Korea and the Korean Demilitarized Zone on a USO tour in August. According to Wikipedia both of his parents are Gujarati immigrants from India.[8] He has stated that stories of his grandparents marching with Mahatma Gandhi for Indian independence were a significant influence on his interest in politics.

Penn's willingness to challenge himself with new roles as well as his ability to move in and out of Hollywood and not be trapped as a traditional movie actor speak volumes about his character and his abilities. May he continue to surprise and entertain us with his outstanding talent.
If you have not seen the movie The Namesake you must, here is the trailer:

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